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HAY FEVER sufferers were hit with the news yesterday that their relief tablets were in short supply.

Some antihistamines, which help symptoms such as a runny nose and itchy eyes, have sold out online.

Hay fever symptoms are about to ramp up for millions in the UKCredit: Getty
Hayfever tablets Piriton are out of stockCredit: Piriton

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It comes ahead of the peak hay fever months in the summer, when grass pollen sets noses streaming across the UK.

Already millions will be sniffling due to “spring hay fever”, caused by tree pollen.

A quarter of people with hay fever are allergic to tree pollen, which starts to calm down from mid-May.

At this point, grass pollen begins to creep up, affecting most of those with the condition.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Director of Patient.info, told The Sun: “This time of year always means higher demand for antihistamines, as hay fever sufferers need them. 

“But people who need them all year round, such as those with eczema, can also struggle if supply is limited."

Is there a shortage?

Boots and Superdrug have confirmed there is a shortage of an ingredient called chlorphenamine maleate.

It’s the active ingredient in hay fever remedies including Piriton, Allercalm, Allerief, Hayleve and Pollenase, and some pharmacy-branded pills.

Only four out of 90 hay fever products at Boots and “a couple” at Superdrug appear to be affected. 

Other online pharmacies are also out of stock.

Will you be affected? 

Chlorphenamine is considered an “older” type of antihistamine.

Dr Jarvis said: “The current shortages of antihistamine tablets mostly apply to chlorphenamine tablets, which I don’t often prescribe. 

“Unlike the more modern antihistamines, these cause drowsiness. 

“Most adults rely on the ‘non-drowsy’ versions, such as cetirizine and loratadine – I haven’t had many calls from pharmacists about these. 

“However, if hay fever kicks in with a vengeance, there may be a knock-on effect for these, too.”

What else can I use?

There are several newer antihistamines - including loratadine, cetirizine, fexofenadine and acrivastine - which are not affected by the shortage.

These can be branded or sold by pharmacies and supermarkets as cheaper, own-label equivalents.

These types of antihistamines do not have the same side effect of sleepiness as chlorphenamine.

However, people with hay fever who suffer with sleep may still want the drowsy effect that chlorphenamine offers.

Superdrug said alternatives to Piriton include Allevia and the Almus chlorphenamine line.

Will the shortage be resolved?

Boots said it expected the problem to be resolved soon and "new deliveries are expected in the coming weeks".

Dr Jarvis said: “There are always shortages of the occasional medicine on the NHS. In my experience as a GP, these have become significantly worse over the last couple of years. 

“If I prescribe a medicine and the pharmacist doesn’t have any in stock, they can try and order them from a central supplier. 

“But if there aren’t any available, they have to contact the GP to prescribe an alternative.”

Claire Anderson, president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “Medicine shortages are not new and are something pharmacists have to manage on a daily basis.”

What else can you do to help hay fever?

Antihistamine tablets are used by some 65 per cent of people with hay fever, according to Chemist4U.

But they are just one of many ways to tackle the allergy.

Sprays, balms and eye drops are also a hay fever sufferer’s best friend.

Anti-allergy eye drops can ease redness, itching, swelling and watering, while nasal sprays can help with an itchy, runny, or congested nose. 

They act by coating the lining of the nose with a barrier film, preventing pollen from coming into direct contact with the nasal surface.

If you’re on the move, take some wipes with you to gently remove pollen from your face.

Organic allergen barrier balms, such as HayMax, trap allergens before they enter the body through the nose and eyes.

But Vaseline, which can be found in almost every household, also does the trick at a fraction of the cost.

Diet tips include avoiding apples, which can contain similar allergens, and aged cheeses, which can raise natural histamine levels.

Load up on anti-inflammatory ingredients such as garlic and sweet potatoes. 

Leading Pharmacist Parvinder Sagoo, of SimplyMedsOnline, said two tablespoons of honey per day may be the key to reducing your hay fever symptoms.

He said: “The bee pollen in honey desensitises your body to other pollen, so increasing your daily honey intake may help a person become less sensitive to pollen, as a result you may experience fewer seasonal allergy symptoms. 

“I would advise having a spoonful or two per day, you could add it to your breakfast porridge, granola or you can even stir it into a mug of hot water and create a hot honey drink.

“You may want to also add lemon and ginger for extra immunity benefits.”

Experts also advise on key principles of a pollen-free home, including showering as soon as you get inside, keeping windows closed, and avoiding drying clothes outside.